Todd Berman

Let’s keep standing like one.

“And Aaron died on the top of the mountain… And the entire house of Israel mourned Aaron for thirty days.” (Numbers 20: 28-29)

Remarkably, the Torah emphasizes that every member of the Jewish nation wandering in the desert mourned the death of Aaron, high priest and brother of Moses. This surprises because only a few chapters earlier Aaron and his role is the center of conflict. During the rebellion of Korach and company, Aaron stands out as the focus of contention; as Moses replies to the rebel hoard “who is Aaron that you should criticize him? ” (Numbers 16:11)

In death, the nation came together. Tragedy powerfully unifies the Jewish people. The past few weeks we have been confronted with too many difficulties.

The only positive outcome of the horrific kidnapping of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, may they speedily be returned home, is the outpouring of support from almost every stream within our seemingly splintered people. Where not so long ago protests against the Israeli government  for all kinds of decisions from the draft bill to the failed peace initiatives took place, now rise up groups praying with each other for the boys safety. Knesset members who barely remember the last time they prayed have dusted off siddurim and added their voices to the chorus. I attended prayer vigils in Melbourne and Sydney Australia where black hats stood next to members of left wing non-religious groups all under the roof of the religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva, to cry out in unison.  Charedi papers and rabbis have called out for joining in prayers with the Zionist establishment. Support for our brave soldiers, our sons and daughters, searching to bring back the abducted has come from all sides. It’s almost as if all division has disappeared in this one great communal ache.

As if to pour some salt on a gaping wound, the Presbyterian Church voted to selectively divest its pension fund from certain companies which do business with Israel. One of the most powerful voices trying to stem the tide of divestment has been the American Reform Movement. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism worked tirelessly to prevent this win for the divestment movement and probably impacted the decision to modify the language in the Church’s final statement. One of the most vociferous critics of the vote, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, past president of the URJ, published a powerful editorial in HaAretz protesting the vote. (

My feed is filled with statements and actions of Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supporting Israel against all our foes both around the corner and over the ocean.

What shocks me is that these Jewish leaders support us despite how truly unfairly they have been treated. Non-Orthodox clergy have been verbally maligned, criticized by our Chief Rabbinate, delegitimized, barred from participation in religious life in Israel, and the list goes on. Yet, despite this, they are here, as always, lending their support. It is both heartwarming and a call for reflection and Cheshbon HaNefesh.

On the theological / halachic plane I find myself in a different world than these Jewish leaders; however, from the point of view of our democratic state, they deserve better. MK Rabbi Shai Piron has suggested moving in this direction ( and we should listen to his voice.

This week, while soldiers were scouring the Hebron hills and then coming to barbecues and acts of support from the local residents here in Efrat and the surrounding area, the Jewish Agency was meeting with leaders from all over the globe to find a way to create more inclusion in Israeli society. It is high time that the State of Israel become the State for the entire Jewish people.

Rashi gives us another reason why the entire Jewish people mourned the death of Aaron.  Rashi says, based on Pirkei Avot 1:12 , that Aaron, the high priest, was a pursuer of peace and made amends between husbands and wives, basically the entire family of Israel.

These past two weeks it has taken a tragedy of unimaginable proportions to remind us that we are one people.  Like in the days of Moses and Aaron, tragedy still does that. Maybe we can remember this message even after our boys, with God’s help, return home.




About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.